While it might seem that only specialized technical skills like Java programming or network engineering are the best way to get a good job in the 21st Century, that’s not the case. To really get ahead, what a worker needs is social skills. One needs the ability to talk and listen and translate and act in common with others.
How’s that? Over the next two decades, nearly half of U.S. jobs may become obsolete due to automation, one recent study found. What are workers to do? Become more human, suggests David J. Deming of Harvard. Deming argues that social skills have already become increasingly important in recent decades, especially for those looking for high-wage, competitive positions.
According to Deming, positions that require both cognitive and social skills have shown more wage growth in the past few decades than those that require high-levels of mathematical or analytical training but little social prowess. And those wage gains hold true across all levels of employment.
In the future, the jobs that are least likely to be automated increasingly are those that demand lots of interaction with coworkers or clients, not just the performance of rote analytical tasks. These jobs also call for the ability to perform innately human exercises—like pondering another person’s point of view. These nuances of human interaction are something that computers have yet to master.
Social skills have the most value when it comes to the ability to work on a team, trading off tasks based on skill sets or ability. “Human interaction in the workplace involves team production, with workers playing off of each other’s strengths and adapting flexibly to changing circumstances,” Deming writes. “Such nonroutine interaction is at the heart of the human advantage over machines.”